SB Nation Blog
The Opponent in one sentence
The Royals are one of the worst teams in baseball and as a team they have scored the fewest runs in the game while allowing the most, an unideal combination.
Red Sox 2, Royals 1
Down. Way down. Like I said, the Royals are one of the worst teams in baseball, and they are going through a stretch to prove it right now. Kansas City has lost their last six games and 18 of their last 21. They haven’t won a series since they took two of three in their final series of May.
7/6: Chris Sale vs. Jason Hammel, 8:15 PM ET
Friday is Sale Day, and that means it’s the best day of the week. That has certainly been the case of late as the lefty has been on another level over his last five starts. It’s a span that has included a 1.03 ERA over 35 innings (seven per start) with 54 strikeouts and eight walks. Opponents are hitting just .134/.208/.168 during this run. It’s been absolutely bananas, and we should hope it continues for this start. Sale faced the Royals earlier this season and he allowed two runs (one earned) over seven innings with six strikeouts and two walks.
Hammel had a solid and somewhat underrated three-year run just a few seasons back, but things have gone downhill and then some since he signed with the Royals before last season. He struggled mightily last year, and the righty has only gotten worse in 2018. Over his first 17 starts of this season he has pitched to a 5.56 ERA with fewer than six strikeouts per nine innings and a flyball tendency that can lead to plenty of homers. Hammel is trending in the wrong direction, too, with a 6.43 ERA in his last six starts. The Red Sox knocked him around for eight runs in 4 2⁄3 innings back in April, and he will feature a low-90s sinker along with a slider and some less frequently used secondaries.
7/7: David Price vs. Brad Keller, 7:15 PM ET
Price is the talk of the town right now, and it is not in a good way. Though the lefty has been mostly good-to-great since the middle of May, he laid an egg his last time out in New York. Given his history, that was always going to get people riled up, and it’s hard to blame them at this point. The talent is still there and he’s shown it plenty this year. If he’s commanding the edges of the zone he’s tough to hit no matter his pitch mix. That being said, if he pitches well against the Royals on Saturday it’s not going to change the narrative very much. Price missed the Royals series earlier this year.
Keller is a 22-year-old rookie right-hander who has split time between the bullpen and the rotation this year. As a Rule 5 draft pick last winter he is required to stay on the active roster, but that isn’t much of a challenge given the lack of talent in Kansas City and his success. In 56 innings of work this year he has an impressive 2.09 ERA, and while his 5.3 strikeouts per nine certainly aren’t impressive he gets enough grounder and weak contact to think he can be average. He’s been particularly great in his last two outings, allowing just one run over 15 innings of work against the Angels and Mariners. Keller made two relief appearances against Boston this year and tossed 2 1⁄3 scoreless innings. He throws two different mid-90s fastballs as well as a slider.
7/8: Rick Porcello vs. Jakob Junis, 2:15 PM ET
It’s been an up-and-down year for Porcello, and that applies to his most recent starts as well. Over his last four outings, he’s alternated between dominance and mediocrity. The key with him, as always, is being able to avoid getting too cute looking for strikeouts and just concentrate on generating weak contact by hitting the edges of the zone. As we’ve seen, that approach leads to a solid number of K’s for the 2016 Cy Young award winner anyway. Like Price, Porcello missed the Royals series earlier this season.
Junis is an interesting pitcher who showed really encouraging signs as a rookie in 2017 and then starting off 2018 on a strong roll. He has shown off some solid, though unspectacular, swing and miss with good control. However, home runs have been a problem, and of late they have begun to kill him. The righty has been awful over his last five starts, allowing at least five runs in four of them and pitching to a 9.33 ERA overall. He’s also allowed 12 homers in that stretch. The Red Sox did struggle against Junis earlier this year, scoring just two runs over six innings. He’ll feature a pair of low-90s fastballs along with a slider.
Blaine Boyer was a surprisingly impactful arm last year for the Red Sox bullpen. He certainly wasn’t a high-leverage piece of anything, but he served a role and served it well for most of his time with the Red Sox. It was no surprise they let him walk after the season, but he deserves mostly positive memories from Red Sox fans.
Notable Position Players
Mike Moustakas was one of the many high-profile free agents who found himself disappointed by the free agent market last winter. He ended up re-upping with the Royals, and he’s had a bit of a middling season. The plate discipline is solid and the power is there, it’s mostly a matter of a low BABIP.
Salvador Perez is the face of the Royals at this point, but the catcher has had a disappointing season. He’s as aggressive as ever, but he’s not pairing it with the hard contact that has been typical for him.
Whit Merrifield is the best Royal now, as he provides a good contact profile and plate discipline with strong baserunning that makes up for his lack of power.
Lucas Duda has always been a somewhat underrated platoon bat but he’s been disappointing in terms of power this year.
Jorge Bonifacio is an intriguing young outfielder but he’s missed most of this season with a PED suspension. He was just reinstated last week.
Alex Gordon is simply not the player he once was as his power as almost entirely disappeared and the rest of his game at the plate has dissipated as well.
Alcides Escobar is perhaps the worst player who still gets regular time in the majors.
Wily Peralta has emerged as the closer since the Royals traded Kelvin Herrera, and the former failed starting pitcher has looked solid in that role. He’s certainly not elite and wouldn’t be a closer on good teams, but he’s not a terrible option for what the Royals need.
Kevin McCarthy and Brandon Maurer are the top two righties after Peralta and the former allows a ton of contact while the latter has had extreme command issues all season.
Tim Hill is the top Royals lefty and he is a much better pitcher than his 5.47 ERA would indicate.
Boyer will not participate in this series as he’s been out since late May with a back injury.
Jorge Soler broke his toe in the middle of June and it’s not yet clear when he’ll return to the Royals outfield.
Ian Kennedy hasn’t been great this year but he should be back in the Royals rotation before the All-Star break after missing just one start.
Cheslor Cuthbert is currently on rehab getting over a back injury and could feasibly be back for this series.
Jesse Hahn has missed the entire season with a UCL injury, though he’s trying to avoid Tommy John.
Nate Karns is recovering from TOS surgery, the same procedure Tyler Thornburg underwent, and his timetable to return is unclear.
Justin Grimm has had a tough year and is currently out with a shoulder injury that will sideline the righty indefinitely.
Erik Skoglund is also out indefinitely with a UCL injury.
It’s going to be very hot in Kansas City this weekend, but the weather shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not games are played in this series.